from the copyright-is-whatever-I-say-it-is dept
The cable industry's attack on the FCC's plan has been threefold: hire sock puppets to make violently misleading claims in newspapers and websites nationwide; push industry-loyal politicians (who have no real clue what the plan does) to derail the plan publicly as the worst sort of villainy, and present a counter proposal packed with caveats that makes it all but useless. This counter proposal involves the cable industry delivering its programming via apps (much like it already does), but forces consumers to continue renting a cable box if they want to record programs via DVR.
Given the cable industry's plan is little more than a press release, that's only the caveat we know of. But anybody thinking the cable industry's going to just give up $21 billion in set top rental fees and their walled garden control over the user experience is utterly adorable.
Numerous companies with feet in both streaming hardware and TV (Google, Amazon, TiVO) obviously support the FCC's original proposal. A regulatory filing from Amazon back in April (pdf) applauded the FCC's plan, and while it raised some questions about copyright and copy protection, it also argued that most of the modern protection systems already at play on streaming hardware should be more than effective at protecting programming:
"Amazon Fire TV 4K, nVidia Shield TV, Roku4, and numerous televisions from Sony, Vizio, and other manufacturers are already trusted by movie studios to deliver high-quality ultra HD movies with theater quality sound. These devices use hardware protections that assure that content delivered to these devices can only be decrypted and played back by devices authorized to play back that content. Furthermore, the technological solutions that exist today are much more advanced and robust than they were even when CableCARD was created. As the proliferation and success of OTT services (including those offered by Amazon) demonstrate, modern content protection technologies are both in use today and highly effective."Given the fact that most DRM is almost always bypassed and generally only succeeds at making the end-user experience difficult and annoying, that's debatable. Still, it should again be noted that copyright itself isn't really the issue here. As the EFF rather eloquently noted back in April, this fight is about control of the end-user experience and, for cable, protecting cable box rental revenue and keeping its customers firmly ensconced within the traditional cable walled garden.
That said, it's interesting to watch how the nebulous term "copyright" morphs and shifts meaning as both sides try to use the concept as a malleable weapon. For example the Washington Post this week pointed to a another Amazon filing with the FCC (pdf) in which Amazon complains that it's the cable industry's app-based "compromise" solution that violates copyright and would be a piracy nightmare (despite cable delivering current content via apps with no problem):
"The parties also discussed the recent submission from NCTA of an alternative method using an app-based approach. The Amazon representatives said that it was hard to comment specifically on the short submission since it lacked important details. However, some aspects of it warrant attention. The Amazon representatives stressed that hardware-based digital rights management (“DRM”) is the gold standard for content protection. A native application has no impact on the robustness of properly implemented hardware-based DRM with regards to content security. Thus, the NCTA submission does not in fact address the security concerns MVPDs have identified as one of the central reasons to oppose the proposals set forth in the NPRM.In short, the cable industry says it can't possibly support real cable box competition because... copyright! Amazon argues this is nonsense, but in its own way is perpetuating the straw man by claiming that only a hardware-based solution will work because... copyright! As we noted last week the very definition of copyright is being molested for argument's sake; a giant ugly red herring distracting observers from the fact that this is about control, not copyright. And obviously if you've used Amazon's own locked down, walled-garden products, the negative impact of DRM is very often a distant afterthought -- not entirely unlike traditional cable.
It should be noted that the Amazon-owned Washington Post first gives way too much credence to these copyright claims, then mistakenly tells readers that the FCC's proposal and the cable industry's proposal are effectively the same thing, both efforts ultimately saving consumers money:
"Critics say requiring companies such as Comcast to make their TV content freely available to any other box maker poses copyright risks, raising the possibility of theft by content pirates. Both the FCC approach and the cable industry proposal could reduce the cost of renting set-top boxes — in some cases, by potentially eliminating the need for them altogether.Well, no. The FCC's effort is a well-intentioned (though possibly doomed) attempt to bring real competition to the cable box, driving down costs for consumers. The cable industry's counter-proposal is a page of ambiguous promises with the clear intent of delivering programming via app, but forcing users to either still rent a cable box -- or pay their cable provider a premium if they want to record and store content (either on physical DVR or cloud-based DVR system). One effort is trying desperately to make the cable box more open and PC like, the other is a show pony designed to retain control in the face of evolution.